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The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  282 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A world of riches and glamour, but also tragedy, abuse and disease, this book looks at how this influenced building and the arts in London.
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published September 3rd 2009 by Random House Books
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Start your review of The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital
This is a huge, compendious grab-bag of information about the seedier side of Georgian London. You could say that it lacks discipline and has no real narrative thread, but it's nevertheless full of bizarre and fascinating details on almost every page about courtesans, streetwalkers, moral crusaders, Hell-Fire Clubs, disreputable actresses, pornographic pamphlets, run-down coffee houses, bagnios, bluestockings and badly-behaved baronets.

Dan Cruickshank is really an architectural historian. He cam
This book is an absolute brick, a total unit, but as such it also packs a huge amount of information on prostitution in Georgian London, exploring many facets: views on prostitution, prostitution and religion, prostitution and the law, prostition and art, prostitution and buildings, the list goes on and on! I really appreciate the completeness of this work: it addresses cases ranging from the late 1600s till the 1820s. It was also thoughtfully written, with true sympathy for the women and men se ...more
Oct 11, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: london, history, 2015
This started off strong, but started to drag around the 30% mark. I'm not sure Cruickshank understands editing- we don't need every single detail to comprehend his point. His prose is also not the most engaging. I would only recommend this for the truly interested folks ...more

“In the eighteenth century London’s sex industry had been conducted openly as part of daily life, but by the mid-nineteenth century it existed covertly, a secret parallel world enjoyed in guilt and shame (street-walking was made an imprisonable offense in the 1820s). The myriad of lies that were the result of this still thriving but almost manically concealed sex industry were the most dramatic expression of the great social change that had overtaken Britain.”

This book is surely long, but very v
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is all about how the 18th-century sex industry was woven into both London's social and its physical life. Cruickshank is an architectural historian, and the enthusiasm that surfaces whenever he starts talking about buildings is immensely endearing.

I was also touched by the sympathy and lack of judgement he shows to the (often desperate and brutalised) men and women who were part of the sex industry; and how much that stands in contrast to the response of the time, which was to treat p
Rajiv Chopra
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-history
This book is an excellent read. It is meticulously researched, and very well presented. There is a wealth of information, and many, many names. What I like, is that when a name crops up at a page, he refers you back you an earlier page, so you can go back and refresh your memory. An excellent tool indeed.

The book is timely, in that it does great service to the women who have often been abused by people of power. Some of these women rose to power, and then died in misery. The tale of Ann Bell is
Patrick von Stutenzee
Dec 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
If the word ‘Georgian’ brings pictures of lofty buildings sporting large staircases and high ceilings to your mind, then it is time to look into the gutter of Georgian London. Observe the genteel people from Georgette Heyer's period novels in their time off the set meeting the people who never made it onto it.

Read the full review
This book is a good source of information about prostitution in London during the Georgian age.

It's quite sad to read about all the young women, men and children who were forced into this life to survive, used up in a couple of years and then thrown away. The descriptions of rampant disease and the pathetic stories of early deaths is wrenching.

There's also the maddening story of the execution of several gay men who were framed by a turncoat "friend" to save his own neck.

It's a serious read and
Nicki Markus
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-non-fiction
I loved The Secret History of Georgian London from start to finish. It was both educational and entertaining. I enjoyed Cruickshank's prose, which was readable and engaging, and the topic was an interesting one. The Georgian period has long fascinated me and this was another wonderful book to add to my collection of non-fiction on the era. The chapter on Molly Houses was particularly illuminating since I am current writing a novel set in the later Regency period in which one of the characters is ...more
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Chock-full of fascinating detail and well-researched and well-cited information regarding the world of the sex-trade in Georgian London. I began reading this for research, as the mistress of an Earl I’m writing about is discussed, but I ended up reading the rest of it for pleasure. My only complaint is that the text size was minuscule, and necessitated some high-power reading glasses! I understand why this was done - for space/size reasons since the book is nearly 700 pages long - but my eyes we ...more
Pogo Dragon
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book a lot, but also found it somewhat frustrating. I wanted to pick it up by the scruff of the neck and organise it more!

Full review here:
Ellie Lloyd
Dec 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
A really interesting lens through which to view the Georgian sex industry.
It covered a broad range of influences in an insightful manner.

Kinda wish I'd read this before doing my dissertation now. 😋
Helen Carolan
Mar 25, 2021 rated it it was ok
Mr Cruickshank is an architectural historian and it shows in this book. What should have been an interesting and somewhat humorous subject was rendered dry and boring. Perhaps he should stick to writing about buildings rather than the people in them. Boring read.
Dec 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. I had no idea.
Brigid Keely
"London's Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London's Georgian Age," by Dan Cruickshank, is an entertainingly written and in depth look at the very large role prostitution played in the economic and social life of Georgian London.

This is a big book, a brick of a book, a door stopper of a book. It took me quite a while to get through because there's a lot of information and a lot of stories and a lot of people involved. It's well written, though, and entertaining, and ed
Jan 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent non-fiction about the sex industry in London during the 1700's. Author Dan Cruickshank (architectural historian and television presenter of Around the World in 80 Treasures) has gone to great lengths (600 pages worth) to tell us just what an industry that was too. Of all the females in London, 1 out of 5 was involved in this lucrative trade. I know everyone has read stories of all the children on the streets...orphans really...they were a result of unwanted children from this industry. ...more
A rather lengthy but easily read tome on London's during the Georgian Age. The author states the 'service industry par excellence' (i.e. the sex industry) in 1792 has a gross turnover of 20 million pounds. During that same year the London docks handled imports and exports of 27 million pounds. Prostitution was one of the prime money 'generators' of the period. Much of the building during that time frame was financed by prostitution, either as places for mistresses or brothels.
The author discuss
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lpl, history, england
I found this book to be very enlightening yet drawn out in the same token. The first part of the study examines the business and recruitment practices of the industry. He also cites famous individuals and recounts their stories. It really enraged me to read about the practices that entrapped women into this industry as well as the lure of it due to the overwhelming lack of opportunities for a female in the strongly patriarchal society. In the middle, it meanders a bit and seemed redundant. He to ...more
Laura Hutchinson
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Georgian history and the history of London
Recommended to Laura by: A colleague
A fun and readable history book - Dan Cruickshank has a real eye for the human details which really bring to life the people who worked in the sex trade in eighteenth century London. His understanding of the city's economy I found really interesting - the sex trade was bringing in huge amounts of money and keeping some women in serious wealth and style. There are some fabulous characters within, not least my favourite Kitty Fisher - painted by Reynolds as Cleopatra, who once ate the notes given ...more
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fairly detailed but this should also be compulsory reading for Regency Historical writers. You can see how companions and guards would be necessary when there were so many people who were involved in the sex industry one street over. This is a book about how basically Prostitution was one of the major earners in London during the Georgian period. That this was how a lot of people made their living, how then as now, the women were often blamed rather than the clients and how some people prospered ...more
Martine Bailey
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book that successfully links London’s architecture with the Georgian sex industry. As such, it takes the reader inside a lost world of bagnio bath houses (apparently tiled with blue Delft tiles), large mansions rigged out as brothels and lots of other nooks and crannies. Occasionally I felt the need for more on buildings (I want details of furnishings, not generalities) and less on the rather well-trodden biographies of famous Georgian characters. But although it is a huge book I r ...more
Krista D.
Mar 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Too often our Jane Austen adaptations (while lovely) have given us the impression that Georgian Britain was a charming place, filled with balls and galas and men who cared deeply about women.

Cruikshank crushes that misconception to dust.

Exhaustive research, extensive primary source material, thoughtful, illuminating. I wish this book was out when I was writing my thesis because it would have become my historical bible on prostitution.
May 16, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a good book - not brilliant, but good. The author's writing style is very readable and accessible to a range of people from academics to the general public. His argument was interesting, but I thought that he lost sight of what exactly he was arguing at different points. However, what really makes the book is the author's inspection of some of the women involved in prostitution in Georgian London. The portraits the author paints are as fascinating as they are revealing.

Lauren Albert
I didn't do this book a service by taking so long to read it since I lost track. But I do think it was a bit scattered with no overarching argument or point of view. If you are interested in the history of London or of histories of the underworld, you'd probably find something of interest in it. It is a sometimes microscopic look at prostitution in Georgian London. ...more
Jason Walker
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are serious things to consider in reading how the disadvantaged are abused; how society has always really been the veil of our own deceit. However, the author in this case also gives us a good read. Well executed research and well put-together accounts of the era and its characters this is a page turner you won't want to stop reading. ...more
Beth (bibliobeth)
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
I did quite like this book about prostitution in Georgian London, but because I have read a book quite similar to this recently (London - The Wicked City), I found it repeated much of what was said in that book. I would still recommend it to anyone interested in the dark and "naughty" times of London though! ...more
Leslie Zampetti
Cruickshank's work is an odd hybrid - far too entertaining to be a scholarly work and too large in scope (and in places, dry) to be a popular work. nevertheless, London's Sinful Secret is well researched and written. ...more
Aug 22, 2011 marked it as to-read
I'm a hundred pages into this tome. It didn't need to be a tome. If the author had cut out the editorializing (aka authorial intrusion) and let the history do the talking, the book would be much better. Bibliography, mostly of printed sources, is to die for. ...more
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a must-read for me as it covers my favourite subjects and Cruickshank really does them justice! It captures the dark side of the city , and appalling plight and misuse of women against the architectural backdrop of lavish self indulgence.
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good. Less interested in being sensational than in being informative. Lots of empathy and sense of humour. Charmingly, the author's interest in architecture clearly surpasses any interest in the sexy bits. ...more
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Cruickshank holds a BA in Art, Design and Architecture and was formerly a Visiting Professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Sheffield and a member of the London faculty of the University of Delaware. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a member of the Executive Committee of the Georgian Group and on the Architectural Panel of the National ...more

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